This has been a season of firsts for Kenyan rugby in sevens with the men winning their first series title and our women’s team about to make their debut at this level in Clermont-Ferrand. The men’s and women’s teams are very closely aligned. We train at the same ground and use the same gym; we literally walk in their footsteps. It is really inspirational for the girls to have a big brother like this to look up to, and they always live up to expectations.
As for this weekend’s tournament in Clermont-Ferrand, there is huge excitement in the camp about getting this opportunity to test ourselves against the best rugby-playing nations. When you consider that none of us have ever visited France before, it only adds to the excitement.
A couple of months ago we won the Bowl in the Hong Kong invitational event and that lifted the confidence of the girls, it made them want to play more games at this level. Hong Kong was a big stage for us like France is going to be, but from our point of view it is a case of the bigger the better.
We will take it one game at a time in France. I want the girls to go out there and enjoy themselves and to try and impose our game on the opposition. Our women are big and physical and can be direct but we’re also able to play a passing game too, and utilise the pace we have out wide if needed.
Unfortunately, an injury in training has robbed us of Philadelphia Orlando, a wonderful player and a huge asset to us. But we still have lots of quality in a squad which is capably led by Catherine Abilla, who is a real stabilising influence on the rest of the girls and reads the game very well.
Janet Owino (pictured below) has really come a long way in her game development and is now a real pillar of the team. She is a good defender and has got good pace to beat defenders in the wide channels. Sheila Chajira, an effective ball carrier, is another to have shown a great deal of improvement in the last few months, while Celestine Masinde plays her heart out whenever called upon and has been part of the team for a while.
After Hong Kong, we brought the girls in for training at a camp in Nairobi. We were joined by Peter Harding, a high performance consultant contracted by World Rugby to assist us. He gave us a new perspective on doing things and we really appreciate his input and the help we have had from World Rugby in the build-up to this new chapter in Kenya women's rugby.
Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Maggie Alphonsi was also in the country recently but unfortunately due to scheduling we weren’t able to benefit from her experience on the training field. Nevertheless, the way she conducted herself while she was over here doing charitable and community work was a real inspiration to the girls and left a positive impression on them.
The tournament in France is massive for us in terms of our Olympic preparation because we don’t get many games against quality opposition in a calendar year. Playing against the USA, England and Spain – all core teams on the series – will really test our structures and team plays and that will help us to build the team for the Olympics, where we can hopefully compete for a medal.
Obviously we are representing Africa at the Olympics because South Africa are unable to make it. It is good news for us and bad news for them and hopefully they can make it next time around. That said, we are very happy to take the opportunity even though we have come through a different door. We are really grateful and honoured to be able to represent Africa at the Olympics and to get the chance to savour the Olympic spirit.
Hopefully now we can send a few messages out there that Kenya is a team to watch – in women’s sevens as well as the men’s.
Kenya squad: Stacey Awuor, Janet Owino, Doreen Remour, Grace Adhiambo, Celestine Masinde, Cynthia Camilla Atieno, Sinaida Aura, Sheila Chajira, Irene Otieno, Rachel Mbogo, Kate Abilla (captain).